Ogburn, Will 2017

Last modified: 2021-01-21 05:51
Storyteller: Ogburn, Will
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2017-12-08
Length: 0:44:33

Topics: Consumer law, Nonprofit management, Poverty law, Support centers, and Truth in Lending Act
Geo, US: MA and OH
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NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.000
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Longtime executive director of the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) in Boston. Guided the organization through loss of LSC funding and in fostering and organizing the consumer law practitioner community.



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From https://www.nclc.org/about-us/will-ogburn.html:
Willard Ogburn is a Senior Fellow at NCLC, previously serving as Executive Director. The National Consumer Law Center is a low income advocacy organization, publisher of the major treatises on consumer law, a support center for legal aid programs, and sponsor of the annual National Consumer Rights Litigation Conference. The Center is sometimes called ‘the nation’s consumer law experts.’ Mr. Ogburn has presented and written widely on consumer law. He has served as Deputy Commissioner of Banks in Massachusetts; in the Executive Office of the President; with Congress’ Legislative Reference Service; in the Law Reform Unit of Cleveland Legal Aid; as a member and Chair of the Federal Reserve Board Consumer Advisory Council; on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Judicial Screening Committee; on the transition team for Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey; and on the Board of Directors of Americans for Fairness in Lending; the Consumer Federation of America (President); the National Association of Consumer Advocates (Executive Committee); the Center for Legal Aid Education (President); and Consumer Reports. He was awarded the National Association of Consumer Advocates’ Lifetime Achievement Award; the William J. Proxmire Lifetime Achievement Award by the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers; and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Will Ogburn
Conducted by Alan Houseman
Dec. 8, 2017

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Will Ogburn, who has been for many years the Executive Director of the National Consumer Law Center, but recently retired, I understand. This interview is being done by Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library. The date is Friday, December 8th, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Alan Houseman:
Let’s begin, Will, with a brief overview of your life and work. Where you grew up, where you went to college and law school, what jobs you’ve held. then we’re going to come back and talk in depth about your work in those jobs.

Will Ogburn:
Well I grew up here in Washington D.C., in the close-in suburbs. Very political and a lot of race issues. I went to Brown and studied political science and economics. From there, I worked for a year in Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress and the White House. I went to law school at the University of Chicago. Out of law school, I applied to a hundred different legal services jobs in the beautiful parts of the country. I ended up in Cleveland, which I loved. From there I was recruited to go to the National Consumer Law Center with a brief break where I worked for Governor Dukakis in the Banking Commission. I’ve been at the National Consumer Law Center ever since. I have had a great, wonderful career doing so.

Alan Houseman:
What factors led you, family, religion, mentors, maybe other, to go into legal aid after law school?

Will Ogburn:
I’ve thought about that. I’m hard put to actually say. But I know I applied to go to law school to do legal aid type of work. To do consumer law on behalf of poor people. I was brought up here. It was a very political environment. My mother in particular, both parents, but my mother in particular was attuned to the politics and the civil rights movement. I remember as a boy, our fourth grade class went on a children’s TV show. There was one black girl. My mom was concerned whether she was going to go. My Mom said I had to call and see whether she was included. She wasn’t. I think that kind of thing bred into me a real concern for public justice really. It was always there.

Alan Houseman:
At Cleveland Legal Aid, what kind of work did you do there, what kind of cases did you have? How would you describe your experience at Cleveland Legal Aid?

Will Ogburn:
It was fabulous. I was reluctant to leave. I went to Cleveland as opposed to all the other places that might’ve been possible because I was given the opportunity to work in the law reform unit doing consumer law, which is exactly what I wanted to do. Consumer law and high impact work. I worked with other lawyers, as I did at the National Consumer Law Center, but brought cases that I thought would change the law or change practices within the business world. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had wonderful mentors there. When I got the invitation to go to Boston I was torn because it was such a great place to work and the work was so good. I did a couple things outside of consumer law, you would know Alan. I did an EPSDT … am I saying that right?

Alan Houseman:
Right.

Will Ogburn:
Case. So that’s the first time I saw your name because you had done that in Detroit. But we did that in Ohio too. That was a good experience because it got me into the federal court and sort of a higher lever of practice right out of law school. Not many people can do that.

Alan Houseman:
You went to the National Consumer Law Center. Why did you go there, and what did you do initially there before you moved up in the hierarchy?

Will Ogburn:
I always wanted to do consumer law. It was my interest in economics. It was the notion that the lives of poor people are really affected by the economic system and a single case, for example, changing the way car repossessions are done, can affect thousands of people around the country.

Will Ogburn:
Knowing I wanted to do consumer law, there are really only a couple places in the country to do that. To get an invitation from the National Consumer Law Center made sense career wise. Where else would one go? It’s true today. Where else would one go to really practice a high level of consumer law? I left it up to my wife. We went to Cleveland pledging each other we’d only stay for two years. But we liked it. It’s a great place to live. I don’t urge people to visit, but it’s a great place to live. She had a job and it was a very difficult decision. But when she said she’d go to Boston, it started a wonderful career.

Alan Houseman:
Who hired you at the NCLC?

Will Ogburn:
Mark Budnitz. The director before him flamed out. It was a horrible mistake. Mark came back to the Center as director to help right the ship. Then after him it was Bob Sable, and then me.

Alan Houseman:
What kinds of things as staff attorney did you work on at the Consumer Law Center? Explain what the Consumer Law Center is too.

Will Ogburn:
So at the time the Consumer Law Center was a national support center for legal services funded by the Legal Services Corporation with the intention of supporting the practice of consumer law in legal services field programs around the country. In addition, it had a focus on high impact policy work — litigation and especially legislation. It’s different now, but it was funded by the Legal Services Corporation up until 1996. Also consumer law was really new. There was very little practice of consumer law or even definition of consumer law at the time. So in many ways the Consumer Law Center was creating the practice of consumer law and creating a bar of people within legal services who practice consumer law, something that didn’t exist before. We spent a lot of time working with field attorneys on specific cases. We also spent a lot of time on federal policy issues and really defining what could be done on behalf of poor people, using the law, in the area of consumer law.

Alan Houseman:
At some point you left NCLC and worked for, I’m not sure I understand this, but Mass Banking Commission. Explain all that.

Will Ogburn:
Like every state, there is a state agency or cabinet position that focuses on banking or financial institutions. The governor then was Governor Dukakis. He brought in a whole fresh team to run the Banking Commission. I became Deputy Commissioner of Banks. My particular focus there was the division that regulated finance companies, that enforced the Truth in Lending Act, that regulated debt collection companies, insurance premium finance companies. It was a fabulous, fabulous experience.

Will Ogburn:
I learned things that really affected my practice in consumer law later. For example, I used to think bankers knew what they were doing. I learned they didn’t in the area of consumer finance. Finance companies did. I went in thinking finance companies were always the bad guys. I also learned how bureaucrats and regulatory agencies are part and parcel of a community that’s mostly made up of other regulators and industry, and that their contact with people like me was very rare. So their thinking, just their way of thinking, without any intent, incorporates the view of industry. So that also was a very, very important part of it.

Will Ogburn:
I left and went back to the Center when Governor Dukakis lost reelection. I was asked to stay on but it would’ve been a diminished role, so I went back to the Consumer Law Center. With pleasure.
Alan Houseman:
Before this, I forget to ask. You worked at some point for the federal government. Was it after college?

Will Ogburn:
Yeah, after college and before law school. I had, as a high schooler, been an intern on Capitol Hill for Senator Paul Douglas. My first job out of college was working for the senior specialist for economic policy at the Legislative Research Service of the Library of Congress, serving Congress. There’s some great stories from that and insight into how government, Congress, worked behind the scenes. That was terrific. Then I went from there to what was then called the Bureau of the Budget, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) today, in a little niche where we were focused on trying to come up with a new index for welfare. Not welfare benefits, but public welfare, you know when our community is healthy, et cetera. Then I left from there for law school. But it always gave me a certain ironic pleasure to say, I’ve worked for President Nixon, who tried to get rid of Legal Services.

Alan Houseman:
So you came back to NCLC, I think as Deputy Director, is that right?

Will Ogburn:
Well I came back as a staff attorney, and then became Deputy Director, and then from that became Director.

Alan Houseman:
So talk a little about the kinds of cases, the kinds of work you do at NCLC. Then later we’ll get into how you shifted it after 1996.

Will Ogburn:
In 1996 we were overwhelmingly funded by the Legal Services Corporation. The change point that you’re referring to is when, virtually overnight, we lost all our Legal Services Corporation funding and weren’t sure whether we would survive.

Will Ogburn:
Before that, we were really focused on legal services programs and on policies that directly came out of our knowledge of what our clients around the country were experiencing. I think the highest impact work we did was administrative rulemaking, but we also did litigation. We were involved in the Supreme Court due process cases, which was a rolling set of really precedent setting cases then.

Will Ogburn:
An example of the administrative advocacy was the Federal Trade Commission proposed a credit practices rule. This had sort of ten points to it, each one of which was a major reform in the way consumer law, business practices were done. So for example, it ended up restricting the holder in due course rule, where consumers who had been abused couldn’t sue the person who was trying to collect against them because they were a holder in due course, et cetera. So we were hired by the Federal Trade Commission to present the case supporting this rule. We had several staff people on it. There were hearings all across the country. We put on over 200 witnesses. The industry put on over 300 witnesses. We did all the briefing, all the oral argument, for the FTC on the credit practices rule. We also did it for the vocational practices rule, and vocational school practices rules. So that was a major source.

Will Ogburn:
Also, the late 60’s and early 70’s, up until the 1980’s, a lot of the well-known consumer federal laws were adopted — Truth in Lending, Fair Credit Reporting, Equal Credit Opportunity. We wrote parts of those. We were major advocates for debt collection. We had the opportunity, working behind the scenes, to actually draft a fair portion of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that was later enacted. At the time, as you may recall, having anyone speak up for poor people had an exaggerated impact because it had never been done before, because people hadn’t heard these views. They had a drama to them that was very effective in getting public policy adopted.

Will Ogburn:
In addition to focusing on training legal services attorneys, providing advice to them on their litigation, doing trainings around the country, we had this other focus on national policies. Also states. We had model laws that were intended to be adopted by the states on almost every consumer law topic you could imagine. We had a National Consumer Act, which Senator Proxmire introduced in Congress. Many of the laws later reflected that. Then we had a Model Consumer Credit Act that a lot of states used in part. No one adopted it in full, but they would pull this out. It helped define consumer law going forward. Today we have a new model practice law, the Family Financial Protection Act, which I think will have the same effect. It sort of defines the next level, and over time it’ll be adopted.

Alan Houseman:
Prior to ’96, do you think NCLC made a difference in the work that civil legal aid did on consumer law related issues?

Will Ogburn:
Absolutely. As I said, there really wasn’t much practice of consumer law anywhere. Until after 1996, 80% of people practicing consumer law would have been in legal services. There just was not much private practice of consumer law. That all generated out of the legal services movement, the role of the National Consumer Law Center. We wrote manuals that have later become the basic treatises now, and a major source of income, that put forth what the law is, but also our interpretation of it. that also had an effect. But it made it easier for practitioners in legal services and outside to practice consumer law.

Alan Houseman:
So in 1996, Congress eliminates funding for national support, state support, clearinghouses and other things. There were restrictions, but they basically eliminated all funding for the National Consumer Law Center. What did you do, and what have you created since then?

Will Ogburn:
The end of that story is we’re much bigger now than we were when we had Legal Services funding, much more focused, much more efficient, and much higher impact, much more sophisticated. We wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t acted very early. Before you and others in Washington said, “You are going to lose your money,” I saw the handwriting on the wall. if I hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have had the resources to eke by. I presented to the board of directors three staffing opportunities, one of which had just four people to it. We did survive. We did shrink. Not all that dramatically because I acted so early to save the money to be able to carry forward.

Will Ogburn:
We redefined ourselves. My concern was would we remain focused on low income consumers, whether we’d be part of the legal services world. Because of course consumer law mostly involves non-low income people because that’s the population. I think we were successful in both.

Will Ogburn:
We had just lost 80% of our funding. We had to find a way to replace that. There was no one secret, it was all incremental. There was no dramatic thing that we did. One thing that did help us survive was we had our manuals, a set of then probably just 12 volumes, that were very good, that we could sell. So that helped. It also helped our staff because it defined us as the national experts in these areas. We had fundraising committees, we brainstormed. But the big challenge was to redefine the culture of the place because I and many people go into legal services so they don’t have to worry about money. They don’t have to bill. So we had to get everybody involved in a collective effort. I couldn’t shoulder it. I’m not the type of director that can just go out and raise money. People had to see the opportunities. They had to look at the world differently.

Will Ogburn:
So one thing I did was I went around to each of my colleagues, as a teammate, and said by the end of the year you need to raise $10,000, which might be $25,000 this year. They didn’t know it, but I didn’t have any expectation that they would succeed. But the notion of looking for opportunities to think about how it’s to be done … The other thing that I did to change the culture was to say “no” all the time. To do something, it had to be really important, have a big impact, but it had to have a funding source. If it didn’t have a funding source I had to say no. We had such an outstanding staff. This is their passion. You don’t come to the Consumer Law Center unless you’re a wonk. You’re a fanatic about consumer law. This is what they want to do in their life. So it really played to the strength of the staff to force us to think differently. So we developed, we became very good at… With the manuals, we re-designed them completely. We put them out more frequently. We became much better with foundation funding.

Will Ogburn:
I think the biggest thing we did was we created a private bar of people who practice consumer law who have become our biggest supporters, our biggest source of income. A bar that didn’t exist before, that came out of Legal Services. Our first conference came about because we saw great legal services attorneys leaving legal services to continue practicing consumer law, serving low income people, and failing. Just one after another. We might have been able to identify between six and 12 people in the entire country practicing consumer law. We pulled those people together, and others, and that became the first of a series of national conferences, which now are big affairs — that’s why Elizabeth Warren was here — with 900 people now. There are probably several thousands of people who make a living practicing consumer law. So we built up that-

Alan Houseman:
You’re referring to the conference you just ran here a couple weeks ago at this hotel?

Will Ogburn:
Yes.

Alan Houseman:
I know I’m side-tracking you slightly, but describe the conference and what you do and all that.

Will Ogburn:
It’s just a wonderful, uplifting affair. The community that we’ve created is incredibly supportive of each other. In the private practice of law there are a lot of elbows that are thrown, there’s a lot of competition for business. This is the opposite. Everyone supports everybody else, they share their materials, they mentor each other. There are now probably at least 10,000 people who make their living practicing consumer law. A small portion, but a very significant portion, of that is still legal services attorneys. Actually, at this conference, Senator Kaine asked people in the audience to raise their hand if they had had legal services in their background. I would say 70% of them raised their hand. It’s really pretty impressive.

Will Ogburn:
So the conference pulls these people together. We have 50 or 60 different sessions on very narrow wonky subjects that are of a real practical value to the practice of consumer law. We have the big speakers who come in. But the real value of it is reinforcing the altruism of the practice of consumer law, and reinforcing the quality of the practice of consumer law. Many people come year after year after year because it’s a community. You know, like they come to the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association conference. It’s a community. That’s who their friends are. So it’s just a wonderful experience. We give out national awards, we have high powered people come and speak. It’s uplifting.

Alan Houseman:
Good. So you’ve essentially taken a national support center for legal services into this entity that is sort of leading an expansion of consumer lawyers and has really become now a key player-

Will Ogburn:
In the practice of consumer law.

Alan Houseman:
Thousands of consumer lawyers and you’re stimulating that.

Will Ogburn:
Absolutely. actually what I omitted was, now if someone wants to engage in the practice of consumer law, they come and they have all these role models. It’s very easy to do now, where before we saw people failing if they were left. They were flailing at it. Now it’s very easy to get caught up in this and to find your niche and to have a practice. The practice of consumer law, sometimes it’s a sole practitioner in a small Wisconsin town, and sometimes it’s a big class action group that focuses on low income consumer law issues. They can be fabulously wealthy and successful that way. So it’s this huge breadth of people.

Will Ogburn:
But the NCLC is the hub of that world.

Alan Houseman:
It’s the description I was looking for. I was having trouble.

Alan Houseman:
You’ve had some other roles that come out of and were apart of you’re being the head of the National Consumer Law Center. These include the Federal Reserve Consumer Advisory Council, the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the Center for Legal Aid Education. There may be others. Describe the Federal Reserve Consumer Advisory Council and your role there, and then some of the other things I just mentioned.

Will Ogburn:
When the Truth in Lending Act was passed in, I forgot, 1969 say, by statute the Federal Reserve Board was given rulemaking authority and was required to have a consumer advisory council. It’s a little misnomer because there are three categories. A third of the people are from industry, a third of the people are consumer advocates one way or another, which includes academics, and then a third is just sort of an unknown mixture of people.

Will Ogburn:
I was appointed sometime in the 80’s probably. Early. I was one of the younger people there. I was there because of the role of the National Consumer Law Center. We met regularly. We were staffed. The Advisory Council would do studies. They’d recommend policy issues. At the time Paul Volcker was the chair. He would come and meet with us. I’m not sure how effective it actually was. For me, as a National Consumer Law Center attorney, it was really the first time I came to appreciate the other side, industry. Before it was us versus them, and it’s always been us versus them. It’s still us versus them. But I could befriend and form real partnerships with some of the people from industry. Some were ideologues. But we could explore issues together, we could have reasonable conversations. They could see where we were coming from. I’m not sure I affected policy. I later became chair of that commission. But in terms of maturing as an advocate, it was very helpful.

Will Ogburn:
These other ones you mentioned, the Consumer Federation of America, I’m on their board of directors. I’ve been President of the board and am still on the board. That’s a membership group of small state advocacy groups on consumer issues writ large. It involves things that you and I wouldn’t necessarily consider consumer, such as transportation, health, et cetera.

Will Ogburn:
I think the most interesting on you mentioned is the National Association of Consumer Advocates because after we got this conference going and we had more private practitioners, the issue became, how do they have a bigger impact on policy? So we formed a membership organization, the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Attorneys would join, they would pay dues, they had committees, they would take positions, they would join amicus briefs. This was all at the National Consumer Law Center.

Will Ogburn:
At some point, we realized that to be stronger, they needed to be separated from the National Consumer Law Center. They didn’t need to be constrained by our way of reviewing what the public policy should be. They need to be able to take very quick decisions on their own. So we spun them off and now they’re in Washington D.C. and they’ve become a very effective voice for consumers and really for issues that are important to low income consumers, although many of these practitioners don’t have low income clients. I should say, you haven’t mentioned, but the National Consumer Law Center has a D.C. office, but it’s mostly in Boston. Now we’re actually having talks. They want to come back into the National Consumer Law Center. But they gained their strength by being spun off. I’ve been active in that organization, on that board, et cetera.

Will Ogburn:
You sort of draw a distinction pre-1996 when we were LSC and post. Another difference is the level of our advocacy really changed pretty dramatically I think because we grew much more sophisticated and focused. Not having government funding meant we had to account for every penny, and so it became important, how is this penny going to be put to the best possible use? So we really focused on high impact.

Will Ogburn:
So our litigation changed dramatically. Before we would be helping other legal services attorneys do litigation, and sometimes it might be an individual case that did change the way repossessions were done. But afterwards they became much bigger cases. We needed to co-counsel other people that could underwrite the cases. So for example, I think our most famous cases were those that challenged the automobile finance industry. If you went in to buy a car, you would usually finance it, and the financing company would be say GMAC, General Motors Acceptance Corp. GMAC would say to the dealer, we’ll finance this at 8%. The dealer could then mark it up and convince you to pay any rate that they could. So we brought national cases showing that that was discriminatory. If you were black, you paid more. We just proved it statistically by getting the entire tape of all the GMAC contracts and buying data from the states that had race on their driver’s license. We matched them up and showed that blacks inevitably paid significantly more than they had to pay. To do that kind of case, the discovery was a million dollars. We had to co-counsel with firms that could handle that kind of underwriting.

Will Ogburn:
Our cases became much more sophisticated and the practice of consumer law became much more sophisticated. Class actions became a huge part of it. We work with a lot of those class action attorneys. They would come to us because of our imprimatur. As one judge wrote, if the National Consumer Law Center is involved, this must be an important case. We would go to them because here are the issues that we thought were important, here’s the impact that could be had. I think in Congress, and administrative agencies, we also became much more sophisticated about how to go about the work.

Alan Houseman:
So what is your size today?

Will Ogburn:
We have about 50 employees. Our budget sounds bigger than it might be for 50 employees. That’s because we have this big publication business going on to promote the practice of consumer law. So our budget now is probably about nine million dollars a year. We’re much bigger than we used to be and much more effective than we used to be. We’re still part of the legal services world. That takes effort because it doesn’t necessarily flow anymore. In fact we changed our IRS status to make sure we stayed focused on lower income consumers. We were, let’s see if I can remember this, we were not a legal aid organization, we were a public interest law firm. In 501(c)(3), there are these 14 different categories or something like that. We were not legal aid. We were a public interest law firm. I was worried that we would just lose our focus over time because that’s where the money is. We changed it to be legal aid so that we would always be focused on lower income consumers and legal services.

Alan Houseman:
You’ve received a number of awards which are in the resume which would be part of our record here. Which mean the most to you?

Will Ogburn:
I would say that two stand out for opposite reasons. The one I appreciate the most is from the National Association of Consumer Advocates because that was my peers. They did what I do. That was the most meaningful.

Will Ogburn:
The other one that stands out is, I’ve forgotten the actual name of the honor society, but it’s like the — I’m making this up — the National Academy of Consumer Financial Services Attorneys. It’s mostly business attorneys, big firm attorneys. They gave me the Proxmire Award, which is their big award. Then I’d become a member for life. Well I went and received the award. I gave a speech challenging their moral ethics and have not gone back. So that one was meaningful to me just because of the irony that I’m put into this group that I don’t feel particularly comfortable with, and got this award, and then have never really taken advantage of it since.

Alan Houseman:
Okay.

Alan Houseman:
What do you see the future of consumer law being, both outside of legal aid and inside of legal aid?

Will Ogburn:
I think within the realm of poverty law, consumer law is always going to be important. I don’t know that it’s given the rhetorical importance that it deserves or is recognized beneath the surface. But consumer law affects: do you have a car and can you get a job? Are you going to be garnished and lose your job? Really fundamental. Medical debt now is in the world topics. It just touches on so many aspects of the lives of poor people.

Will Ogburn:
Within legal services, there have been times where lots of programs practice consumer law by name and times when it seems that they don’t. Yet our experience is there are a lot of people practicing consumer law legal services throughout. For example, at our last national conference, there were probably 400 people that were current legal services attorneys that were there, and that’s pretty consistent. Yet, I think most people have the sense that it’s not been high priority work. Yet it is for one reason or another. A lot of housing attorneys in foreclosure. There’s another example. I think it will always be there. There are always new schemes. There are always more sophisticated ways to rip off poor people. Then just the notion of financial stability for families is the key to understanding poverty.

Will Ogburn:
Outside of legal services, I’d say that will also thrive despite the efforts of the Supreme Court and Congress who have allowed arbitration clauses to come in. Whatever document you sign now, you waive your right to go to court. Nevertheless, the practices continue to thrive. More and more people practice consumer law. The big difference is now a lot of the issues that were there when you and I started, Alan, were sort of local businesses. There might be a national household finance company. Now a lot of the worst practices are coming from big business, Wall Street-underwritten businesses. Recently in the news is Wells Fargo and how they created all these accounts that didn’t exist. Also, poor people have files at Equifax, which has given out all that information or allowed it to be hacked and gone out. So those are big national issues.

Will Ogburn:
I think consumer law now is more defined by those big national issues than it used to be. It’s not that the local ones have gone away. So people practicing consumer law have sort of a double focus now in a way they didn’t before. When I started out, if I had a law reform case, it was hoping the precedent would count. Now you could have a class action, the results of which would force an industry, out of embarrassment or financial penalty, to change their practices. That’s a big change. That will continue. I think our concern is that people doing that work, we want them to be altruistic. We want them to be doing it for the right reason. Some of these are big money cases, so what I call the sharp elbow people sometimes want in. But I think we’ve been very, very successful in that regard.

Alan Houseman:
Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that we should’ve covered about you and your work that you want to add?

Will Ogburn:
The one thing we didn’t talk much about was the treatises that we write. NCLC, while it was Legal Services funded, went through, as you know, periods where our existence was at stake. Finally it hit, finally we lost the money. But there were other times when we were on three month funding, or we just knew we were going to end. The manuals were borne out of that. We thought we were going to be defunded, we weren’t, but we thought we were going to be defunded. The question was: what legacy do we leave? We had developed this expertise, we had all this knowledge. So we began writing the manuals for legal services attorneys who were the only ones practicing consumer law. Then of course other people wanted those manuals. They were an asset we had when we lost our funding. So when we lost our funding we made them much more sophisticated. We updated them more frequently. They became a source of funding for us.

Will Ogburn:
They now probably bring in about three million dollars a year. Because we now have reserves we can invest in the future. Just a couple of years ago we spent $100,000 to make the last iteration of the manuals available online, on your phone, on your iPad. We used the firm that made that possible for the World Bank and for the Oxford Press. They’re the ones that did ours. It’s really sophisticated. It’s more and more impactful, not just to make the practice better and to explain even to the other side how we think the law is. We define expectations in there. We got a Cy Pres Award once from a guy who called up and said, “Oh, five years ago I talked to one of your staff attorneys and they referred me to this sentence in the book. I just won this big class action because of it.” It was precedent setting. We had said this is the way the law should be applied, and he gave us a million dollars out of the court case.

Will Ogburn:
So it’s defining law too. If I was talking about our biggest successes, we could point to national legislation. We could point to big litigation. But I think the biggest success is creating that community who practice consumer law. That will endure. The manuals are very much apart of that. They actually define our strength because we can’t have people knock on doors or call senators, but the staff calls us because we wrote that book. We’re the expert in that area. it gives us entree. So that’s the one big thing. There are probably others, but that’s the one big thing I would say is really an important legacy for NCLC.

Alan Houseman:
Right. So what are you next doing?

Will Ogburn:
Well, I retired two years ago. I’m doing all the routine things. I’ve traveled more. I have a granddaughter now. The center of the family has moved from Boston to Philadelphia. I’m still in Boston. But I’m on several boards of directors, one of which, Consumer Reports, is very demanding. I’m on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s judicial selection committee. I’m mentoring someone. I’ve turned down opportunities to consult. But I’m happy to do it free as long as there’s no obligation that I have to follow through on. Like you, you reflect back, and how many people can say they really had a wonderful career? I had a wonderful career.

Alan Houseman:
That’s great.